Special Report: Know More about schooling options in the Valley

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There's no question school has changed and so has the school experience. Students today deal with pressures at school that can be a distraction from their learning. Bullying, teasing and texting are just a few ways students can lose focus, plus, some students don't feel challenged enough in today's classrooms.

So, are all the options equal? Are kids capable of focusing on learning in the comfort of their own home, or while traveling in front of a computer? Some say the answer is yes.

It's not an easy job, and there's plenty of grading, but like all teachers, Nadine Bode does it because she loves it.

"I like that I can spend time with my kids and really help focus them and direct them," Bode said of home schooling her oldest three daughters.

Home schooling an elementary, middle and high school student began out of necessity, but when her family moved to the states from West Africa five years ago, they ultimately chose to stick with the model they knew best: home schooling.

For Bode and other families around the Valley, sometimes it's a non-traditional school setting that works best and allows students to excel, and these days, there's no shortage of academic options.

"This is the 21st century, so it's all about innovation and choice," School District 51 director of academic options Ron Roybal said. "What we want to do is empower our families and our kids to customize their educational experiences."

Like the Mesa Valley Vision homeschooling program, the Grande River Virtual Academy allows students to meet School District 51 standards in environments other than a traditional classroom.

"Families do their learning wherever they have computer access," Grande River Virtual Academy kindergarten-fifth grade teacher Karla Durmas said of the online program.

Durmas says parents can serve as learning coaches at home, and certified teachers are available to help students who may need an additional boost or extra challenge online.

Other students may perform better with smaller classes, challenging rigor and older influence.

"Our older students can help mentor our younger students, so there are a lot of projects that go across grade," Caprock Academy headmaster Kristin Trezise said.

Caprock Academy serves as the only kindergarten through 12th grade school in the Valley, serving 715 charter school students with 200 on a wait list to be admitted.

"We can do something different, we can analyze something and implement something in a much shorter time [compared to a school district school]," Trezise said.

Four-hundred students, grades kindergarten through 8th grade call private school Holy Family Catholic home. Though it may come at a price of $4,700 a year, the results speak for themselves.

"Catholic school students are more likely to attend college. We have a very rigorous curriculum," Holy Family Catholic School principal Jake Aubert said.

Aubert says teachers are encouraged to look beyond proficiency and instead ask students to maximize their individual potential, all with a Christ-centered mindset.

“We want each one of our students to be embedded with the idea that Christ is within them and they need to act Christ-like,” Aubert said.

These days there are so many options and families have different reasons for picking certain schools.

"Sometimes it's behavioral, sometimes just a class setting is very disturbing to them and it doesn't allow them to focus on the academics," Durmas said.

While children are getting an education with all of these options, there is a defining difference: some have teachers and some don't.

"[Teachers are] not an answer for every child or every family," Durmas said.

Some may say a class setting, family schedule or a child's learning pace are exactly why a child needs a non-traditional type of learning environment.

"This actually allows them to take those pieces out and lets them actually have a better education than if those other things were preventing some of that," Durmas said.

That’s not the case, though, for Central High School teacher Jim Given. Given works with the AVID program helping students prep for college.

"[We] teach them how to do research, we work on their writing," he said of the program. "Kids are not all the same and they need different things."

He's worked with a number of students with different learning styles in his tenure but has come to find that even if these alternative learning environments work, there’s a need for teachers and interaction with others when it comes to learning.

“They learn to interact with other people and we live in a highly collaborative world," Given said of classrooms and teachers. "I don't know everything there is to know. But I feel like I’ve helped a lot of kids figure things out for themselves, and that's invaluable to me."

Bode appreciates that as a homeschooling parent, too.

"You can't get everything out of learning just at home I think, there are lots of things you can learn," she said.

Bode values peer interaction and competition only a traditional school option can offer, but in the end, says it's all about finding what works best for the student.

"I know my limits in certain places, so with my high schooler, I’ve decided to do a couple of classes outside," she said. “Different types of schooling are appropriate for different families and this is just what works for us."

School District 51 offers a number of different options for families from homeschooling to online schooling and say this is popular because students are still fulfilling all of the district standards to graduate.

Students still take standardized tests like the TCAP and ACT and SAT at the older ages in non-traditional schooling.

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